Like I have mentioned before, I have been on two exchange programs. One to Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the other at The University of York in York, United Kingdom. Just by their location alone, I am sure you can just imagine the vast differences between the two of the exchanges!
One of the most unexpected differences I have seen between the two are with my friend groups between the two programs. For the most part, I was friends with exchange students in Singapore while I was mostly friends with local students in York. The difference between having an exchange friend group versus a local friend group is astonishingly massive! Let me explain.
Exchange Friend Group
Most exchange students on exchange are basically the same. They all just want to travel, do things, and party. In Singapore, I traveled to a different country every month! My friends would always text each other and say, “Let’s go into the city and do something!” (Ok that was a lie… We honestly would get together and play the board game Risk like all the time, but that does not sound as fun so just forget I mentioned it). It was quite common to walk into each other’s room and say, “Get ready. We are heading out in five!” and have absolutely no question whatsoever. We were never just not doing anything you know? We all knew that we only had a limited time together and in that limited time we needed to do as much as we possibly could!
Local Friend Group
Having a local friend group is almost the complete opposite as mentioned above. Instead of feeling like an exchange student, I felt exactly like a normal student at the school. We were catered so we would eat breakfast and lunch together everyday and people knew us as the gang from K-Block (that means I live in K-Block of Derwent college). We would go into the city to splurge on a meal and would go out on the weekends, but for the most part all my friends had studying and essays to write so they were never as free will as the exchange students were.
Pros and Cons
You may think that the local friend group sounds like a blah compared to the exchange group, but they honestly provided me with so much. In Singapore, we were not really involved in the school or its functions. We knew about them only when we would stumble upon them, but that was about it. At York, I knew about every event that the college was running and all events in town! They knew which events were the fun ones and which ones blew so I was never surprised!
This is when having a local friend group did not go over well. I have been in the UK for three months now and I have only left Yorkshire (the county in which York is located) once! Local students do not have the desire to travel because they live here and can do it whenever they please! Meanwhile, my exchange group would send each other weekly updates of possibilities of places we wanted to go and things that we could do!
This one may sound like an obscure one, but it really isn’t! You know when you travel, and you stumble upon that one “spot” where you just fall in love with and go back to a couple of times. Whether it be a coffee shop, a restaurant, a park, etc. you just love this spot? Well the local friend group already knew about all these spots and know how crap they are and show you the actual real places to go! The best thing about being on vacation is being where the locals are right? The Brits took me to the places where only Brits go and that’s it. Truly an immersive experience and I loved it! On the other hand, my exchange group and I had no idea what the heck we were doing ever and thought we were going to cheap places but never actually were. I know York SO much better than I ever knew Singapore.
Hands down a LOT cheaper to be friends with the locals. For the same reason above, they know of the cheap places to go and are not trying to spend a bunch of money. They are typical broke college students just like I am and don’t do too much to spend their limited cash supply. That is a completely different mindset because, although exchange students are also broke, we still find it necessary to spend money on traveling and new experiences!
I encourage any exchanger to try their best for a middle ground like I did not. Having a split between local and exchange is honestly the key to having an absolutely amazing exchange! The locals will show you all the good places to go in town that you can show your exchange friends, while you can help make the locals realize how awesome their town is. What I mean by that is that my local friend group in York often read my blogs and find it amazing how differently I view our activities together. Towards the end, I showed them how nice it was to get the group together and just go hang out somewhere in town and not on campus. Something they never use to do because they would just stay in the kitchen and only go out on weekends.
In the end though, any group that an exchanger makes on exchange will be one of the best group of friends they will ever have in their life. I consider all these people friends that I will keep with me forever. Local or Exchange = Best Friends.